Turmeric, Illumination, and Abalone on the shelves

By | April 27th, 2011 | No Comments

As with many a book, the good stuff is inside this post. Click on the photo below to see the treasures of a very special library.

As an object, the book has always had a strong allure for me. Even an everyday mass-marketed Penguin may seduce me with a certain grain of paper or well-executed binding. So it didn’t take long for me to start salivating in the special books collection at U.M.’s Richter Library after artist Sam Winston’s O, Miami event on April 13. Comprising more than 50,000 books, the collection has far too many pieces to peruse in a single visit, so I went back a week later to tour the shelves with head of special collections Cristina Favretto as my gracious guide. Below are photos of my favorite finds.


Venus, by Brooklyn-based artist trio Organik, is a “meditation on the planet … and all her metaphorical associations.” Its pages are coated with impasto turmeric and cayenne pigment suspended in Polyvinyl Acrylic. The amazing thing about this book is that you can smell the spices layered onto every page.

Cosmeceutical Collection

Made in 2006 by Alicia Bailey, Cosmeceutical Collection is a set of three miniature books — Compact Beauty (above), Belladonna (below), and Lashlure — that lie in recessed trays in what looks like a common make-up case with a pink leather spine.

The work is a critique on the standards of beauty in contemporary culture. The three mini-books that make up Belladonna fit into the powder trays of a regular-sized compact mirror.

Common Threads

This is one of ten hand-sewn, hand-embroidered pieces in Candace Hicks’ Common Threads series, which is a record of literary coincidences, like the motif of dental instruments in David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and William Gibson’s Idoru.


In addition to its contemporary work, the library has illuminated manuscripts that are hundreds of years old, including Dialogues et Chants Royaux (below) from 1515. At one point the property of William Randolph Hearst, the book was number three million in the Richter Library’s overall collection.

A knife in the hand of a monkey

One of the fascinating aspects of books as art pieces is that they challenge our understanding of what a book is. Above we have a book with no binding or pages as such. Its text is a single Hindi proverb — “To educate a woman is like putting a knife in the hand of a monkey” — wrapped like thread around a bobbin.


As a former DIY zinester herself, Favretto is big in to collecting original punk zines and displaying them next to Pre-Raphaelite illuminated manuscripts — oi! oi! oi!

Anonymous (to me)

I lost my notes on the next three books, but I thought each beautiful in its own way.

Good reading for a rainy day.

This one, I remember, was made by University of Miami students Update: University of Miami student Ashley Ford made this book using a photograph she took from the Metro on her way to school. It is a “flag structure”, she says, called Metrouroboros.


This is a collection of poems called Water. Its cover is inlaid with abalone shell, and it has an eel-leather spine.

Bolom Chon

A pop-up children’s book from 2007, “Bolom Chon” is the title of a Tzotzil Maya song from Chiapas about a magical creature. The book is illustrated with woodblock and silkscreen prints.

A Guide to Higher Learning

This book, by San Francisco artist Julie Chen, may be the star of the collection. It stows in a clamshell box fit for a board game and unfolds into the question-driven matrix you see below. Via Flying Fish Press: “The piece is comprised of 8 sections of rigid square pages that are hinged together in unexpected ways, giving the reader a physical reading experience that mirrors the complex meaning of the content.”

The special books collection is on the eighth floor of the Richter Library at the University of Miami. It is open to the public.

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